What Happens if I Do Not Report a Car Accident in Florida?
July 3, 2023 | Sagi Shaked | Car Accidents
Florida law imposes many obligations on drivers involved in car accidents. These laws help police officers investigate crashes and produce accident reports. They also ensure that people involved in the accident have the information they need to pursue PIP benefits and a personal injury claim against the at-fault driver, if necessary.
Although drivers benefit from following the rules, you might consider bending them in the heat of the moment. You may believe that keeping quiet about a crash will help you avoid increased insurance rates, liability for accident claims, or even criminal charges. But the system is designed to impose costs on drivers who do not report certain crashes.
Your Obligations After a Car Accident in Florida
After a Florida car accident, you must:
- Stop at the accident scene
- Exchange information with the other road users involved in the crash
- Render aid to those injured by calling an ambulance or taking them to a hospital
Failing to fulfill these legal duties can result in criminal charges for hit-and-run.
You must also report all car accidents in one form or another. For crashes that cause injury, death, or property damage exceeding $500, the law requires you to immediately contact the police by the quickest means of communication possible. In most cases, you will satisfy this duty by using your cell phone to call 911.
Florida requires you to contact the local police department if your accident happens within city limits. If it happens outside city limits, you should contact the county sheriff’s department or the Florida Highway Patrol. When you call 911, the dispatcher should route your call to the correct agency.
For crashes that only cause minimal property damage, you must file a written report with the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles (FLHSMV). You can file a self-report online or by mail.
Finally, if you crash into unattended property, you must try to find the property owner. For example, if you hit a parked vehicle in a parking lot, you must try to locate the vehicle’s owner before leaving. If you cannot find the owner, the law requires you to leave a note at the accident scene and report the crash to the local police department.
Consequences of Failing These Duties
Drivers who fail to carry out these duties can face both criminal and civil consequences.
The criminal system involves violations of criminal laws. After a violation, a prosecutor can bring a case against the violator on behalf of the state.
If the prosecutor wins the case, the violator will be sentenced to some form of punishment that might include:
- Jail time
The punishment for a hit-and-run crash depends on the damage and injuries caused:
- For a property damage-only crash, a violation is a second-degree misdemeanor
- For a suspected or minor injury crash, a violation is a third-degree felony
- For a serious injury crash, a violation is a second-degree felony
- For a fatal crash, a violation is a first-degree felony
If you stopped at the crash and exchanged information, you did not commit a hit-and-run. But you could still violate the reporting requirement for car accidents.
If you fail to report a crash in Florida, you could receive a non-moving citation that gets punished as a noncriminal traffic violation. This means a judge could sentence you to pay a fine of up to $500 but cannot sentence you to serve any jail time.
The civil system handles disputes between parties. In Florida, you have three potential disputes that may need resolution. If you fail to follow the laws requiring you to report traffic crashes, your violation could be held against you.
The first potential dispute that may arise after a traffic crash in Florida will occur between you and your auto insurer. Under Florida’s no-fault car insurance system, you must buy personal injury protection (PIP) coverage in your auto policy.
After a crash, you must start with a claim under your policy for PIP benefits. This claim will explain the crash and your injuries. It will include evidence to support the claim, such as medical records.
If you do not report your crash, you will not get an accident report. This report is often a critically important element of your claim. Without a crash report, the insurer could suspect you of making up the accident. And since you did not report it, you might have no way to dispute this suspicion.
As a result, you might receive a claim denial. You will need to spend valuable time and money fighting the claim denial to get your PIP benefits. And without a crash report, you might not even overcome the denial.
The Other Driver’s Insurer
You can pursue a claim against the other driver if you suffered a significant, permanent injury or your losses exceed your PIP coverage limit of $10,000. In some cases, you will commence a claim against the other driver by filing an insurance claim against their auto liability insurance policy.
Auto liability insurance pays accident victims injured by a policyholder who drove negligently. In your insurance claim, you will explain your losses and the circumstances of your accident.
But once again, if you failed to report the crash, you might not have an accident report. This report could lead to admissible evidence, like eyewitnesses and accident scene photos, that support your version of the crash. Without it, the insurer simply has one person’s word against another person’s word.
The Other Driver
If you cannot settle your case with the other driver’s insurance company or they don’t have liability insurance, you may need to file a lawsuit against the at-fault driver. This lawsuit will contain the same allegations as the insurance claim. But you must have evidence in court to persuade a jury of your assertions. Without evidence, a jury could dismiss your version.
What to Do After a Car Accident in Florida
After a crash in Florida, you should err on the side of caution and always contact the police. If no one was injured, the police officer might simply pass out copies of the self-reporting form you must file with FLHSMV. But if the crash caused any injuries, you will have protected yourself by reporting it.